The first claim on this copper mine was filed in the late 1880s by some soldiers who came across an outcropping with mineral content. Mining continued until 1975. Our guide had worked in the mines from 1948 to 1975, I think he said, though he didn't look that old. Anyhow, as one website commented, several miners made the transition from miner to mine guide so the mine contributed to the local economy even after it quit producing copper ore.
A group of about 30 of us rode a mine train back into the mountain just over a quarter of a mile. The mountain has 2500 miles of tunnels. The deepest shaft is 3400 feet and there are drifts (tunnels) branching off the shaft every 100 vertical feet. Elevators and chutes connected the drifts vertically for moving miners, ore, and mules. Before mechanism came, mules pulled the ore carts throughout the mines. There were something like 100 mules down there and they never came out. You’d think they’d get an occasional week of R&R, but they didn’t have a strong enough union. Here we are all suited up like miners. That's a light hanging over that first person's shoulder.
We spent about an hour underground, looking at some of the drilling equipment and learning about underground copper mining. Not surprisingly, the process is pretty similar to gold mines I have toured in Colorado: Get the ore out to where it can be processed.
Our guide said he recalled about 15 deaths in the mine during his years there. A dangerous job and other hazards akin to black lung disease. One of the more grisly accidents (recall, this is Halloween weekend) was when an elevator cage landed on someone who didn't realize it was on the way down.
I got out of the mine in time for lunch with the group in the historic Copper Queen Hotel. Bisbee, if you’ve never been there, is built on some steep hillsides and narrow canyons. In fact, it’s built that way if you have been there. Here's a historic shot and one of mine. It's a fascinating old mining town that is now something of an artistic and retirement retreat.
Here's a website with a lot of great Bisbee pictures: http://www.galenfrysinger.com/arizona_bisbee.htm
After lunch Susie and I drove some of Bisbee’s streets and alleys, then headed back to camp, with a stop in Tombstone for an ice cream cone and some more western music. Saturday evening, back at the RV park, was a group cookout, potluck, and(more) story-telling time.
Sunday morning we enjoyed continental breakfast with the group, then said our goodbyes and headed out. This was our first outing with the Zia Chapter of the Allegro Club and we greatly enjoyed it – met several new couples, had a good time. Our "wagonmasters," Brenda and John Barber, from Alamogordo, put together an outstanding rally in one of my favorite parts of the SW. We look forward to more Zia outings in 2009.
Sunday, puttering along driving through some awesome, but barren country, intellectual stimulus came from roadside signs as well as every word Susie said to me. The signs:
WARNING: DUST STORMS MAY EXIST, read one. This would be material for a George Carlin routine. I mean, black swans may exist, too. Also unicorns, etc. But, then, maybe they don't exist. Maybe we don't exist, .... . Did you ever think of that?
Then: VISIBILITY MAY BE ZERO. This message seems to need some elaboration. For example: IF YOU CAN READ THIS, VISIBILITY IS NOT ZERO. Also, IF YOU CANNOT READ THIS, WELL, NEVERMIND.
One unique aspect of the day was that we did not have to re-set our watches for Standard Time. I'm not sure that's ever happened to me. Once we set our watches on AZ time on Oct. 28, we didn't have to change it for NM time on November 2! Doesn't take much to entertain me for 500 miles. XM radio helps, too.
Got to Truth or Consequences and found an RV park just before dark, then home about noon on Monday. The Rio Grande Valley was gorgeous in gold and green and as Susie said, "It's kind of nice to drive slower and see more." I don't detect any crack growth on the tires, but will now be able to replace them with a little more control of the situation.
We had a great time and we look forward to more Zia Allegro Club outings in 2009. Our next major Tuzitrip is to Florida in December. Those shuffleboard courts are calling.
Rob and Susie